NORTH ATLANTA METRO, Ga. — While scientific minds have been hard at work on a coronavirus remedy, more nefarious minds have been looking for ways to profit off of it. Now, multiple federal agencies are putting out the warning about vaccine scams.
The method of the scam isn’t new – getting contact details off of the internet and enticing victims via emails, social media, and cell phones. However, FBI agents warn, what is new is that bad entities are taking advantage of the national need for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Kevin Rowson, Public Affairs specialist for the FBI Atlanta Field Office, said scammers are always on the lookout for the latest world event to take advantage of.
“They know people are vulnerable, and in this particular case with the COVID vaccines, they’re going to meet people who want to know when they can get it as soon as possible” Rowson said. “And that’s what they’re trying to take advantage of.”
Their tactics are deceiving. In mid-December, federal agents busted two fraudulent websites, using similar names, logos and graphics of actual companies, and attempting to steal personal information from consumers.
“If anybody calls you and offers you testing or offers you to get in line for testing, and they want you to pay money – anybody that calls you about this, just ignore it,” Rowson said. “They can send you emails that look legitimately from one of your bill payees. But, if you talk to whoever you pay bills to, to law enforcement, or your banks, they will never call you or email you for that kind of information.”
More cash scams include offers to be placed on a vaccine waiting list, have shipments of the vaccine sold and delivered nationally or internationally, and deals for additional medical testing or procedures with the vaccine.
Rowson said the end game is to make money off of your personal information, so be wary.
“They’re selling it or using it themselves. There’s a market out there for it,” Rowson said. “There’s a number of things people can do with your personal information, particularly your Social Security number.”
Georgia is home to both the scammers and the scammed. In 2019, the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported over 9,000 fraud victims in the Peach State – the 13th highest in the nation. Georgia victims lost close to $80,000,000 in total. In 2019, the complaint center also counted 3,325 scammers in Georgia – the 8th highest number in the U.S., who took $55,338,192 from consumers.
The FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have focused on COVID-related crimes since the start of the pandemic. The schemes are based locally, nationally and internationally.
In April, federal investigators in Atlanta hit Rong Sun with criminal charges for allegedly selling an unregistered pesticide on eBay. The post claimed it would reduce transmission risk by 90-percent.
“The sale of this product not only violates several federal laws; it also gives people a false hope,” Homeland Security investigators said. “During a global crisis, like we are experiencing now, it is incredibly dangerous and reckless to exploit people’s fear for profit.”
The Justice Department has also dealt with a number of coronavirus schemes in Georgia. A statewide task force was formed to combat unemployment insurance benefit fraud. In addition to multiple cases of fake coronavirus remedies, federal agents have investigated sales of counterfeit personal protective equipment.
If you believe you’re the victim of a scam, Rowson urges you to contact the FBI via tips.fbi.gov or 1-800-CALL-FBI. You can also reach out to the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General at tips.hhs.gov or 1-800-HHS-TIPS. Emails can be sent to Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.
For accurate information on the coronavirus vaccine, consult your primary care physician and the website for the Georgia Department of Public Health: dph.georgia.gov/
“Go to your state health department’s website for the latest information about vaccine authorization and how they’re handling it,” Rowson said. “Because each state is handling it on their own. And you only want to get a vaccine through those channels.”